David Lee Roth (born October 10, 1954) is an American rock vocalist, songwriter, actor, author, and former radio personality. In 2007, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Roth is best known as the original (1974–1985) and current (2006–present) lead singer of the Southern California-based hard rock band Van Halen. He is also known as a successful solo artist, releasing numerous RIAA-certified Gold and Platinum records. After more than two decades apart, Roth re-joined Van Halen in 2006 for a North American tour that became the highest grossing in the band's history and one of the highest grossing of that year. In 2012, Roth and Van Halen released the critically successful comeback album, A Different Kind of Truth.
Roth was born on October 10, 1954, in Bloomington, Indiana. He is the son of ophthalmologist Nathan Roth and Sibyl Roth, and the brother of Allison and Lisa Roth. Nathan Roth was a renowned eye surgeon, who made millions via his practice and in real estate. The senior Roth was featured on the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in 1984 on which he claims that he was Van Halen's first manager helping the group obtain gigs in the early days. Nathan owned a 14,000-square-foot home in Pasadena, California, named "Rothwood" and a chateau named "Bradbury".
David is of Jewish heritage and was raised in the Jewish religion. Several members of his family were surgeons: uncles Dave (neurosurgeon) and Marty (orthopedic surgeon), and a grandfather. His uncle, Manny Roth, built and owned the New York establishment Cafe Wha? in the early 1960s, which featured performers such as Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Seven year old David Lee got his first taste of, and desire for, show business from the inside by hanging out at Cafe Wha?, as mentioned in his book "Crazy from the Heat". His uncle was one of David's first guests on his short-lived radio show on New York's 92.3 Free-FM.
After living in Bloomington, Indiana, and Swampscott, Massachusetts, Roth moved to Pasadena, California, while he was in his teens. Roth stated he 'bounced around' a number of schools, and saw a psychiatrist for three years, eventually attending a ranch for troubled teens, where he cared for a horse to build a sense of responsibility. He attended The Webb Schools in Claremont, California, and John Muir High School in Pasadena, then Pasadena City College (although he did not graduate) where he met the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex. During this period Roth worked as a hospital orderly.
With Van Halen: 1972—1985, 1996, 2007—present
By the time Roth was in his late teens, he was singing solo, as well as with a group called the Red Ball Jets. Another Los Angeles area group, Mammoth (featuring Alex Van Halen on drums and Edward Van Halen singing and playing lead guitar), occasionally rented the Red Ball Jets' PA system. Roth was invited (and accepted) to join Mammoth as lead singer. In 1974, told that another act was using the name, they changed their name from Mammoth to Van Halen.
Performing both original and cover songs, Van Halen eventually gained local success, becoming a regular feature at the Starwood Club. It was during their four-month stint there that they were first discovered. In 1976, Gene Simmons took note of the band (in particular Eddie Van Halen, who Simmons hoped to recruit for his own band, KISS) and assisted them in producing their first demo tape. Although featuring many of the songs that would be included on their future debut album, the tape garnered little major label attention. In early 1977, Warner Brothers' Ted Templeman came to the Starwood, heard the group, and signed them to a contract. During this period Roth's stage persona was heavily influenced by that of Black Oak Arkansas vocalist Jim "Dandy" Mangrum.
Released in 1978, the band's first album, Van Halen, earned the band significant national attention. The album was a success, with more than twelve million copies sold, and the original Van Halen went on to release five more successful albums over the next seven years. Roth is often credited with promoting Van Halen's image as the quintessential rock band, one devoted to a lifestyle described by David Fricke in Rolling Stone as "a nonstop booze-and-babes party train." Despite this wild image, Roth was a key part in the band's success both as lead singer and as their principal lyricist. Roth's clever lyrics worked in harmony with the music composed by Edward Van Halen to create the band's trademark tunes, tunes that helped transform Van Halen, in Fricke's words, into "the monster rock action squad that ruled the charts and the airwaves for seven years."
In early 1985, while still a member of Van Halen, Roth released Crazy from the Heat, a popular solo EP of off-beat standards. Singles for "California Girls" and "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" succeeded largely due to their innovative music videos (produced by Jerry Kramer and co-produced by Glenn Goodwin and Bobby Diebold), which featured ridiculous characters created by Roth and his Creative Chief Director, Pete Angelus, who'd previously directed Van Halen's Roth-era videos.
Despite the band's success, a creative rift had begun developing between Roth and Eddie Van Halen early on. The former was mainly interested in lighthearted songs about partying and sex (along the lines of Aerosmith and AC/DC), while the latter wanted more serious lyrical depth. While the band's first two albums contained nothing but "fun" songs, their third one (Women and Children First) adopted a more somber tone. Also, Eddie Van Halen had constructed his own recording studio at home during 1983, which led to an argument with the rest of the band since it allowed him to develop songs without their input. Furthermore, he began to move towards a more radio-friendly pop direction with keyboards and synthesizers while Roth opposed this and felt that the band should play straight hard rock with only guitars and drums. Their sixth album, 1984, was a critical and commercial success but also continued the move towards mainstream pop music. Roth formally parted ways with his bandmates on April 1, 1985. In his 1998 autobiography, Crazy From the Heat, Roth characterized Van Halen's music just before his 1985 departure as "morose." Roth wished to record an album quickly, tour, and then shoot a movie. The film, entitled Crazy From The Heat, was budgeted at $20 million by CBS Studios; however, the project folded after the consolidation of CBS Studios.
In June 1996, Roth reunited with Van Halen for a brief time and to great public fanfare. He recorded two new songs for Van Halen's Best of Vol. 1 album, "Can't Get This Stuff No More" and "Me Wise Magic." After an infamous appearance on September 5, 1996, at the MTV Video Music Awards during which Roth and Eddie Van Halen reportedly threatened each other, Roth was passed over for Van Halen's new lead vocalist job in favor of Gary Cherone. In 2012, Cherone confirmed the longtime rumor that he had already been chosen as Van Halen's new singer long before the MTV incident, connoting that Van Halen used Roth to create public interest in the Best Of Vol. 1 hits collection. '"Me Wise Magic," Van Halen's virtuosic display of psychedelia-influenced rock with Roth on vocals became a #1 Billboard Mainstream Rock hit in 1996.
In 2001, rumors swirled that Roth and the members of Van Halen had recorded several new songs together and were in the process of attempting yet another reunion. Roth later confirmed this, but nothing became of the music. A box set was also rumored, but never materialized. Instead, Warner Bros. issued remastered versions of all six early Van Halen studio albums.
Solo career: 1985–2004
In late 1985, Roth assembled a virtuoso solo band, consisting of guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Gregg Bissonette. With veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman handling the production, Roth released his debut full-length solo album, Eat 'Em and Smile in July 1986. The album saw Roth return to hard rock music, and met with huge commercial and critical success, charting at #4 on the Billboard Top 200.
In January 1988, Roth released Skyscraper, originally known as Cliffhanger, a more experimental recording featuring the hit single "Just Like Paradise." Skyscraper was co-produced by Roth and Steve Vai and was certified Platinum (1 million in sales). At the time of its release, Skyscraper peaked at #6 on the Billboard album chart. Soon after Skyscraper's release, Billy Sheehan left Roth's band due to musical differences. He was replaced in time for the album's support tour with bassist Matt Bissonette, (drummer Gregg Bissonette's brother.) The tour was a major production featuring, at various points, Roth surfing above the audience on a surfboard suspended on wires, and in a boxing ring. Both parts of the stage show were featured in the "Just Like Paradise" music video. The show also featured the band in a calypso segment playing Caribbean steel drums and in an unplugged segment where the band performed acoustic covers of some rock and roll classics.
Following the tour for Skyscraper, Steve Vai left the band to pursue a solo career and record and tour with Whitesnake. Roth replaced him with 19 year-old guitar virtuoso Jason Becker to record his third solo LP, A Little Ain't Enough. A more mainstream hard rock album produced by Bob Rock (who had just produced Metallica's self-titled album), A Little Ain't Enough achieved RIAA gold status. Before the support tour for the album, Jason Becker was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, which rendered him unable to perform. Roth replaced Becker with guitarist Joe Holmes for the tour. During the tour, the emergence of grunge rock altered musical tastes, and Roth's band fractured shortly following the tour's completion. With one exception, (1997's well-received DLR Band album, featuring guitarist John 5 and drummer Ray Luzier,) until his reconciliation with Van Halen in 2006, Roth would utilize hired-hands and studio musicians on his club and amphitheater solo tours.
In April 1993, Roth was arrested in New York City's Washington Square Park for buying what he described as "$10 worth of Jamaican bunk reefer" from an undercover police officer. The arrest made headlines and became a late-night television punch-line. When asked by Howard Stern whether the bust was a publicity stunt, Roth said, "Howard, in New York City this small of a bust is a $35 traffic citation. It literally says 'Buick, Chevy, Other'. Your dog poops on the sidewalk, it's $50. If I was looking for publicity, I would have pooped on the sidewalk."
In March 1994, Roth released Your Filthy Little Mouth, a musically-eclectic album produced by Nile Rodgers. The album failed to achieve positive critical or commercial success, proving to be Roth's first solo effort not to achieve RIAA Gold or Platinum status shortly after its release. The support tour found Roth playing smaller venues in the U.S., and larger venues in Europe. Your Filthy Little Mouth saw a remastered re-release in 2007.
In 1995, Roth returned with an adult lounge act, performing largely in Las Vegas casinos, with a brass band that featured Nile Rodgers, Edgar Winter, and members of the Miami Sound Machine. It also featured several exotic dancers, who in Roth's words were "so sweet, I bet they shit sugar!"
In the late 1990s, Roth trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in New York City, and worked as one for some time. He occasionally told stories about his experiences as an EMT on his 2005 radio show, which replaced Howard Stern's legendary radio show, after the latter moved to satellite radio.
In 1997, Roth wrote a well-received, New York Times best-selling memoir, entitled Crazy From the Heat. The 359-page book was whittled down from over 1,200 pages of monologues, which were recorded and transcribed by a Princeton University graduate who followed Roth around for almost a year. The book received mostly positive critical and reader reaction, and helped to reinvent Roth's image as a popular wit and adventurer, with a bon vivant personality.
In 1998, Roth released a final album of self-penned solo material entitled DLR Band. The album featured a popular song, "Slam Dunk," which, like a majority of the album, was co-written by rising guitar hero and longtime Roth fan, John 5. The album was considered a return to form for Roth by critics.
In 1999, Roth contacted the Songs of Love Foundation asking if he would be able to sing a song for an ailing child. He went on to record a "Song of Love" for 9-year-old Ashley Abernathy who was battling leukemia.
In 2002, The "Song for Song: The Heavyweight Champions of Rock and Roll Tour" paired Roth with his musical nemesis Sammy Hagar, and proceeded to revive the career of Roth. Despite the monetary success and publicity generated by the tour, Roth's future with Van Halen seemed uncertain. "Yankee Rose" appeared in the 2002 videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, playing on rock station V-Rock, while generally, Roth became more visible than he'd been in years, e.g. appearing on commercials for MTV with Justin Timberlake.
In 2003, Roth released his final solo album called Diamond Dave, which included one last self-penned John 5 collaboration among numerous cover songs.
In 2004, Roth appeared on the very popular TV series The Sopranos as a poker-playing guest of Tony Soprano. Regarding this, Roth was quoted on his website as saying, "Mom says I'm going to look like Lee Marvin in 10 years whether I'm in movies or not, so I might as well get after it!"
On July 4, 2004, Roth performed with the world renowned Boston Pops Orchestra at Boston's annual Pops Goes the Fourth celebration. The performance was witnessed by over 100,000 people live in Boston, and by millions more on U.S. television.
The David Lee Roth Show: 2006
Roth was tapped to replace his friend, Howard Stern, on terrestrial radio, following Stern's decision to align himself with SIRIUS satellite radio. Roth's show lasted for four months, and ended in a lawsuit. During the course of the show, Roth maintained a relationship with Howard 100 News reporter Steve Langford. Roth and Langford met frequently after shows, with Langford bringing tape back to Stern of Roth's complaints towards WXRK's management. Issues included Roth's firing, the missing podcast, and his show being cut off early. Langford and Roth met last on Roth's final day, April 21, 2006; Roth performed the Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" for Stern and discussed an impending lawsuit against CBS.
Return to Van Halen: 2007–present
On January 24, 2007, after much anticipation, Billboard.com reported that Roth would rejoin Van Halen for a 40-date arena and amphitheater tour in Summer 2007. This report, among many others, was confirmed with an official press release posted on the official Van Halen website on Feb 2, 2007.
On Feb 2, 2007 The Official Van Halen Web Site released information that Roth had rejoined the band along with current members Alex, Eddie, along with Eddie and Valerie Bertinelli's teenage son, Wolfgang Van Halen. Michael Anthony, Van Halen's original bass player, played the summer 2004 tour with Sammy Hagar under a 'hired gun' contract. On March 8 the official Van Halen website posted a letter from Eddie Van Halen stating that Ed did not feel he could perform his absolute best and the tour with Roth would be postponed.
In March 2007 five members of Van Halen, the four original members and Sammy Hagar were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Van Halen brothers did not attend due to Eddie's condition. Roth was to perform with the band Velvet Revolver; however, conflict with the band caused his part to be canceled. Roth subsequently did not attend the induction, leaving only Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar to represent Van Halen. Both Anthony and Hagar thanked Roth publicly for his contribution to the band during the awards acceptance. Roth did not attend the ceremony and the event was considered yet another public embarrassment for the band.
The conflict was rumored to be based on song selection. Roth wanted to perform "Jump", the band's highest charting song, but Velvet Revolver would only agree to play "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" or "You Really Got Me". When it was finally agreed upon that Paul Shaffer would perform "Jump", Roth claimed that there was no longer enough time to rehearse and opted not to attend the ceremony.
On G4's show Code Monkeys, Dave was shown giving an inspirational speech to keep the others from taking up jobs at Bellecovision and asked, "Would David Lee Roth leave Van Halen?" The show takes place in the 1980s.
On August 13, 2007, 6 months after the initial reunion tour was postponed, it was finally confirmed by Van Halen with Roth at a press conference in Los Angeles that they would start the tour back up again and schedule it starting in September 2007. At that conference, Eddie Van Halen stated that he and Roth were "like brothers" now. Calling Van Halen a "real band", both Edward and Roth spoke of the possibility of further worldwide touring and a new album in mind for the future.
On June 5, 2008, Van Halen announced that the 2007–2008 tour with Roth grossed more than $93 million, a record for the rock band. Van Halen played to nearly one million people during 74 arena shows throughout the United States and Canada, beginning September 27, 2007 in Charlotte, N.C. and wrapping June 3, 2008 in Quebec City, QC for the 400th anniversary of the city.
In December 2011, Van Halen announced a 2012 tour with Roth.
The new Roth-fronted Van Halen album A Different Kind of Truth was released on February 7, 2012. A tour commenced in February 2012.
The Roth Show: 2012 – present
On October 14, 2012 Roth began to broadcast a video webcast on his YouTube Channel called "The Roth Show." Shortly thereafter he also made his show available on iTunes. In the show Roth speaks about a wide variety of topics including making music videos with Van Halen, tattoos and sarcasm. On November 1 a music video was posted dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Roth is a resident of Tokyo, Japan since May 2012 but maintains homes in New York City and Pasadena, CA.
Solo band members
- Brian Young and Toshi Hiketa (2006)
- Toshi Hiketa (2003–2005)
- Brian Young (2002–2003)
- Bart Walsh (1999, 2001)
- Mike Hartman and John Lowery (1998)
- John5 (1998 and 2012)
- Steve Hunter (1997)
- Terry Kilgore (1994)
- Terry Kilgore and Rocket Ritchotte (1993–1994)
- Joe Holmes and Steve Hunter (1991–1992)
- Jason Becker and Steve Hunter (1990–1991)
- Steve Vai (1985–1989)
- Peter Lewis (1990–1991)
- Todd Jensen (1990–1991, 1999–2000, 2004–2006)
- James LoMenzo (2001–2004)
- B'urbon Bob (1998)
- John Regan (1994)
- James Hunting (1993–1994)
- Matt Bissonette (1988–1990)
- Billy Sheehan (1985–1988)
- Jimmy DeGrasso (2006)
- Ray Luzier (1997–2000, 2001–2005)
- Joseph Hudson (1987–1988, 1996–1998)
- Ron Wikso (1993–1994)
- Larry Aberman (1994)
- Gregg Bissonette (1985–1992)
- Marcus Margand II (2000–2001)
- Patrick Howard I (1998–1999)
- Billy Thompson (1996–1998)
- Richard Hilton (1994–1995)
- Brett Tuggle (1988–1994, 1997)
- Jesse Harms (1986)
- Albums with Van Halen
- Van Halen (1978)
- Van Halen II (1979)
- Women and Children First (1980)
- Fair Warning (1981)
- Diver Down (1982)
- 1984 (1984)
- A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
- Studio albums/EPs
- Crazy from the Heat EP (1985)
- Eat 'Em and Smile (1986)
- Sonrisa Salvaje (1986) Spanish version of Eat 'Em and Smile
- Skyscraper (1988)
- A Little Ain't Enough (1991)
- Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994)
- DLR Band (1998)
- Diamond Dave (2003)
- Unreleased seventh solo album with John 5
- Other appearances
- Strummin' with the Devil: The Southern Side of Van Halen – vocals on "Jump" and "Jamie's Cryin'" (2006)
- David Lee Roth (1997). Crazy From the Heat. ISBN 0-7868-6339-0
- Official David Lee Roth website
- David Lee Roth Army
- Official Van Halen website
- Van Halen News Desk
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Image from Discogs